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How to Eat Your Way to a Healthier Life in Hong Kong

By Jenny Leung 26 February 2018
When it comes to maintaining a well-balanced and nutritious diet, living in Hong Kong certainly doesn't make it easy. With fast food options left, right, and everywhere, we often end up choosing convenience over health to cater to our busy lifestyles, which in the long-run can lead to health problems and dietary issues. So what can we do? Well, there's certainly no shortage of dietary advice out there, but the overwhelming amount of information available is more likely to just leave us feeling confused and defeated. So to help clear things up, we speak with experienced Naturopathic doctor Philip Watkins from Integrated Medicine Institute (IMI) to gather some helpful tips on how to eat our way to a healthier life in the 852.

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Are You Nutrient Deficient?

In a study conducted in 2014, up to 97% of people in Hong Kong fell below the World Health Organisation's recommended nutrient intake for essential minerals such as calcium, zinc, magnesium, and iron? According to Watkins, dietary deficiencies are becoming more widespread in the city, which is mainly seen in adults, but also in "fussy kids" who are convinced that they only need to eat carrots in order to be healthy and refuse to eat anything else. The truth is, when it comes to staying healthy in Hong Kong, the trick is to encourage diversity in your diet as much as possible. This keeps things from being boring too, because after all, variety is the spice of life!

Change It Up

Watkins maintains that in order to add more nutrients into your daily diet, it is important to try and keep up with the 5 A Day rule and add a variety of fruits and vegetables to your plate. "One way is to turn it into something fun and play a game with your friends, partner, or family where you try one new dish on a menu or recipe at home that you've never tried before every week, working new fruits and vegetables into the mix", he says. "It is best to try a variety of things and move towards a diet that is diverse and nutritionally substantial", he explains. "I have said to my patients before that often times what you don't have is more important than what you do have." So aside from getting essential nutrients from your avocados and kale salads, try not to stick to one thing just because it's easy and you're familiar with it, slowly add other things onto your plate, even if it's just a few pine nuts or an extra glass of fresh fruit smoothie. Watkins also suggests applying this to the different types of protein you eat, such as trying fish if you mainly eat chicken.

Set Yourself A Challenge

Humans are creatures of habit, and according to Watkins, one factor that prevents us from mixing up our diet is our tendency to stick to a familiar routine. "Sometimes this is conscious", he explains, "For example, when we pick our favourite meal at our favourite restaurant, or a little more subconscious, for example, when we rotate the same five vegetables in every meal over the course of a week." He suggests that an easy way to challenge this idea, especially from a fruits and vegetables angle, is to challenge yourself to go vegetarian or vegan for a fortnight to get out of your comfort zone.

Limit The Junk Food

Junk food — we've all been there, whether we have a sudden sugar craving or we're simply in need of some comfort food. With moderation it's okay to indulge and treat yourself every now and then, but recent studies have shown an increasing risk of obesity among children and teenagers in Hong Kong as they become more and more connected with western junk food cultures which leads them to become "overfed and under-nourished". Watkins explains that while students in Hong Kong possess a good knowledge of healthy eating options, this does not necessarily align with what they chose to put on their plate, as they turn to burgers and fries and other nutritionally empty foods instead which are high in refined sugars and carbohydrates. As a result, these choices are driving the obesity levels up, putting them more at risk of serious illnesses like cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes — even at a young age. Not "lovin' it" so much now, are we Big Mac fans?

Boost Your Immunity

So you're eating healthy and you've cut down on the junk food, but nothing seems to be working? Well, put on a face mask because it turns out that high levels of air pollution exposure could be one of the reason why! "Environmental toxins can have an effect on the integrity of the gastrointestinal tract, as well as adding an additional load into the liver, which is intimately linked with the digestive process," Watkins explains. Fortunately, there are some easy ways to offset the effects of air pollution, and one of them is to begin taking supplements. "Research has shown that taking around 400-600mg of Vitamin C and just three Omega-3 capsules of a good quality fish oil can help increase the body's natural defenses when it comes to protection from the dangerous implications of air pollution exposure", Watkins says. "The great thing being that with that protection also comes the added benefits of a boosted immunity from the Vitamin C and the potential anti-inflammatory action from the fish oil." So there you have it — it might be time to visit your local health store.

Embrace The Change

Whatever advice you decide to take on board, at the end of the day, just remember to take things at your own pace, stick to it, and most importantly have fun with it. To make things a little easier for you, here are five simple but effective dietary tips from doctor Phil: [su_note note_color="#ffd88a"]

Five Simple Tips To Improve Your Diet

1. Think about what you want the diet to do for you

If you can work out how your diet can benefit you, it's easier to develop a positive relationship with the necessary habits to achieve that goal. Some people want to focus better, others want to have more energy — whatever it is, the outcome needs to be something that helps you to be a better person, because having a strong incentive will help you make better choices to achieve that goal.

2. Supplements are there to supplement your diet

Spend some time with a practitioner and get your blood tested for the important deficient nutrients, and chat about supplementing some focused nutrients to help you achieve the outcome you've decided on. For example, a good quality B Vitamin Complex after lunch will immediately take away that slump and help you get more done at the office. Just the addition of one supplement on a daily basis can completely change the outlook of your day, so it's definitely worth looking into. However, it's important to remember that supplement, by definition, means "to add to", so it shouldn't be relied on solely to achieve your nutritional goals.

3. Don't skip meals

With the decline in nutrient content in food, eating less of it in the first place automatically puts you at a further deficit, and if you consider the idea that your daily dietary consumption is really the provision of resources your body can use to pay for all the transactions it needs to undertake, then it's important to make sure there is enough in the account to go around.

4. Get to sleep earlier

While sleep may not seem directly related to improving your daily diet, a study released by Kings College in London found that simply extending the amount of time you sleep can guide you to making smarter decisions about what you eat, thus leading to a healthier diet. Sleep long and eat better? Seems like a win-win situation doesn't it.

5. It might not be food, it might be you

The digestive process is a complex one, which requires many different components to work together for a common goal, and if one of those is out for any reason, such as stress, then it can make you feel uncomfortable when you eat particular foods. If you feel bloated or uncomfortable after eating, there is a possibility that something in your digestion is being exposed. This is nothing that can't be directly tested for and treated within the scope of a Naturopath, and it might just lead you to feel better and get the best out of your diet at the same time. [/su_note]

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Jenny Leung

Senior editor

Born in Hong Kong and raised in the UK, Jenny grew up with the best of both worlds. She loves just about anything to do with music and doesn’t shy away from belting out a tune or two when it comes to karaoke. If she’s not out and about exploring the city and practising her photography skills, she’s probably tucked up in bed with a book or glued to her laptop doing her online shopping.